With licorice sales continuing to rise, manufacturers keep on the lookout for new trends and product improvements in the category.

In a perfect world, confectionery products would be at the bottom of the food pyramid instead of the top. Parents around the globe would be encouraging their children to eat more candy because it’s good for them. While sweets are obviously a treat for consumers, not a necessity, many confectionery companies are focusing on making “good-for-you” candies as an un-guilty pleasure for people of all ages.

Thanks to this trend, an old standard-licorice-is gaining new popularity. Besides being very low in fat content, licorice candies are sweet and medicinally helpful for its consumers. And, they are available in many different forms and flavors to suit consumers’ various preferences.

Thousands of years ago, licorice root was used for healing purposes in the Mediterranean and China. An active ingredient in licorice, glycyrrhizin, has an anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic effect on consumers. In addition, a sweet flavor can be extracted from the licorice root, which is 50 times sweeter than sucrose. The sweet ingredient, glycyrrhizin, is the sweetest chemical substance found in nature.

“Given that licorice is viewed as a healthier confection due to the medicinal qualities of glycyrrhizin…there is a trend toward licorice confectionery products,” says Regan Halliwell, managing director of R.J.’s Licorice in New Zealand.

“[Licorice] is perceived as a healthier alternative to other forms of confectionery-naturally low in fat and cholesterol-and it is tasty and addictive,” Halliwell says.

New Zealand’s sole manufacturer of only licorice products, R.J.’s Licorice, is a family-owned and -operated business founded in 1983. For a quarter of a century, R.J.’s has been creating soft-eating licorice products including Allsorts, Licorice Logs, Twists, Roly Poly’s and Bullets.

The newest addition to the R.J.’s family is Strawberry White Chocolate Logs. In this treat, hollow licorice logs are filled with a white chocolate compound center. But R.J.’s isn’t the only one mixing licorice and chocolate.

Rhode Island-based Black Opal Australian Licorice, subsidiary of RV & Sons Pty. Ltd. based in Sydney, Australia, has also recently introduced a chocolate licorice candy: Raspberry soft-eating licorice, enrobed in premium dark Belgian chocolate. All of Black Opal’s other licorice items are soft eating, all natural and 98% fat free.

“Its texture and intense flavor [make the licorice unique],” says Ron Hamilton, v.p., marketing and business development in the U.S. The company offers a couple of different texture variations in its licorice. The soft-eating licorice and allsorts have a chewy texture while Black Opal’s traditional licorice is ribbed with a firmer texture.

To obtain the different textures, the company cooks its licorice products slowly and in batches, which ensures proper development.

All of Black Opal’s licorice products use genuine licorice root extract and do not contain any genetically modified materials, chemically treated ingredients, artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.

Around the world, licorice is accepted among adults and children. Nevertheless, new flavor profiles have targeted adults as the main consumers of the candy.

“I think a lot of the communication I receive is from older folks that haven’t been able to find real licorice in a long time,” says Hamilton, “and it really appeals to them.”

Soft-eating licorice manufacturer Darrell Lea, agrees that adults tend to be more drawn to the candy than children.

“The flavor profiles [of soft-eating licorice] tend to be a little more bold than what’s aimed at children,” says Henry Fowlds, group manager, export and wholesale. “The reason for that is the population ages. They’re looking for a greater taste…and spicier products.”

Soft-eating licorice is one solution to these consumer demands because of its unique textures and flavors.

Creating soft-eating licorice since 1957, the company’s product portfolio has expanded to include all-natural flavors strawberry, original black, mango, green apple and raspberry with no artificial flavors or colors.

“When Darrell Lea started making soft-eating licorice, we used to go to the store and sell the long ropes individually,” Fowlds explains. “The customer would ask for the amount of licorice they wanted and the shopkeeper would take the strand, weigh it, wrap it in plastic and put it in a paper bag.” Today, Darrell Lea uses an updated paper bag concept for its packaging in honor of the company’s history.

All of Darrell Lea’s licorice products are 98% fat free and low in sodium.

In contrast to the soft-eating licorice trend, American Licorice Co. offers traditional Red Vines licorice in original red, black, mixed bites, pink strawberry and cherry flavors. The company also manufactures Snaps, Super Strings, Sour Punch and Super Ropes licorice products.

With sales in the licorice category growing steadily, American Licorice Co. has decided to take advantage of the seasonal candy market. While the company already offers Sour Punch treats for Halloween, they will be introducing pastel-colored Sour Punch for Easter along with a new flavor, Lightnin’ Lemonade. The Red Vines licorice items will also feature seasonal packaging for the Easter holiday.

“We are constantly listening to our consumers and making packaging changes based on feedback,” says Jill Trekell, senior marketing coordinator. “For example, we are now packaging Family Mix in resealable bags so our consumers can keep the product as fresh as possible.”

This year, it’s what gives American Licorice’s products staying power. Red Vines Original Red Twists will celebrate its 50th birthday.

The Hershey Co. has also proven to be a successful licorice manufacturer, its Twizzlers being the number one leading brand (as of July 13, past 52 weeks), according to Chicago-based market research firm Information Resources, Inc.  No surprise then, that Hershey seeks to capture every segment of the consumer spectrum by offering a great variety of licorice candies.

The well-known Twizzlers licorice candies are all firm in texture and come in many forms, including Twists, Twerpz, Pull ‘N Peel, Sourz, Bites, Nibs and Straws. Recently, Hershey has added another licorice line under the brand name Young & Smylie. The new licorice products follow the premium soft-eating trend established in Australia. The soft eating licorice candies contain natural licorice root extract and come in Traditional Black Licorice, Strawberry and Peach Mango flavors. Additionally, the candy comes in bite-sized pieces for on-the-go snacking convenience.

“Young & Smylie celebrates consumers’ love of traditional licorice with exciting flavors that appeal to today’s sophisticated palates,” says Michele Buck, senior v.p., global chief marketing officer, The Hershey Co.

By combining tradition with health trends, licorice manufacturers have re-invigorated the category.